On January 27, 2016, President Trump signed an executive order that bans the entry of citizens of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen into the United States, under all available visas, for 120 days. The order –supposedly to prevent terrorists from entering the U.S. — effectively stops the migration of refugees from these countries altogether for this period, and affects refugees originating from Syria indefinitely. However, since the order blankets everyone with a citizenship with the affected countries, this prevents the entry of not only those in need, but also those that would be of benefit to the U.S.
According to the conservative Cato Institute, no Americans have been killed on US soil by terrorists from the banned countries, while more than 3,000 US citizens have been killed by terrorists from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which were not included in the ban.
The ban has stranded thousands of individuals that were either in the process of traveling to the U.S., or were abroad on business trips or visiting family. One example is a colleague of the University of Pennsylvania’s Josh Plotkin, who is legally a permanent resident of the U.S., and was traveling abroad when Trump’s order was issued.
“Professional and personal lives are being destroyed,” explains Plotkin. “This individual likely unable to attend faculty job interviews that are scheduled in the coming weeks. This postdoc was working on new ways to treat HIV/AIDS.”
“Many talented friends of mine can’t come back to finish their degrees, simply because they went home to visit their parents,” says Iranian Ph.D. student Saeed Mehraban, currently working on quantum computing at MIT. “I’m just taking a domestic flight from Texas to Boston, and I’m still scared they may do me harm.”
Academics from around the world, including a dozen Nobel laureates, have signed a petition denouncing Trump’s order.
Canadian tech executives are already looking to take advantage of Trump’s inadvertent brain-drain, recruiting scientists, researchers and other skilled workers that would otherwise have gone to U.S. companies.
“I think it’s really sad and horrible from a political landscape perspective, but very selfishly it’s an incredible opportunity” explains Dennis Pilarinos, a former Microsoft executive, now running a software startup called Buddybuild in Vancouver. “It’s a chance to welcome incredibly talented engineers who might not have otherwise considered roles in Canada.”
Tech giants Apple, Google and Facebook have denounced Trump’s order, explaining the repercussions that it has on numerous employees at those companies. Unfortunately, most U.S. corporations have remained silent on the issue, fearing political reprisal from the White House.
But the executive order might not go unchallenged: if the order is deemed a religious ban, it will be vacated by the courts as unconstitutional.
Technically, the order itself only targets citizens of the seven affected countries, but it does discriminate according to religion by exempting Christians.
White House Cyber Security Adviser Rudy Giuliani has been quoted as saying that Trump had asked for a “Muslim ban,” but wanted it to be done in a way that would avoid outright illegality. Instead, he and a panel of experts “focused on, instead of religion, danger.” In doing so, Giuliani has admitted that the Trump administration looked for a way to subvert the letter of the law to defeat its spirit.